February 6, 2009

Mailbag: Nutt among an elite group of coaches

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Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and Bear Bryant both eclipsed 300 college football victories, which put them in exclusive company.

But an obscure stat puts them in an even more select class. Bowden directed Florida State to a 24-10 victory over eventual national champion in Miami in 1989 and a 24-21 win over eventual national champion Florida in 1996.

Meanwhile, Bryant directed Kentucky over national champion Oklahoma in 1950 and Alabama over Penn State in 1982. Fewer than 30 coaches have led their teams to victories over national champions. Bowden and Bryant are aong just three to have done it twice. And as we see in this week's mailbag, the other guy's accomplishment is even more unlikely.

Never been here before

From Richard in Indianapolis: Is there a college coach other than Mississippi's Houston Nutt who has, in back-to-back seasons with different teams, defeated national championship teams?

No. Nutt's victories over '07 national champion LSU as Arkansas' coach and over '08 champion Florida as Ole Miss coach is one of the rarest accomplishments ever. It's as rare as former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin winning the Heisman twice.

Check out the full list of coaches who can claim a win over the national champion. It's here.
To answer this question I started in 1936, which was the year The Associated Press started its poll. I'm taking into account AP national champions, UPI champions and BCS champions. Obviously, there have been seasons in which two teams were declared champions most recently 2003, when LSU was BCS champion while USC was awarded the AP's version and that also was taken into account.

Since '39, there have been 28 teams with at least one loss who were declared national champions. But only nine times has that occurred in consecutive seasons, which dramatically lowers the opportunities for a coach to defeat the national champion in consecutive years, much less with different teams.

Still, Nutt would rather coach the Rebels to a national championship. That would be an extremely rare accomplishment, too, as Ole Miss never has won an AP, UPI or BCS title.

Though Ole Miss stakes claims to titles in 1936 and '60, Minnesota was crowned the champs by the AP in both of those seasons.

Stimulus for the Big House?

From Ryan in Cleveland: Which recruiting class will have the biggest impact on the field this fall?

The easy choice would seem to be Michigan, which has the seventh-ranked class providing an influx of talent for a team that managed just three victories in '08.

But recruiting isn't my field, so I asked Barton Simmons of our scouting department. Simmons agreed that Michigan's class is most likely to have an immediate impact.

That makes sense. The current Wolverines were recruited for a system that's dramatically different than that of second-year coach Rich Rodriguez. Watching the Wolverines in '08, it was painfully obvious they needed better play at quarterback and more speed. The defense also needs an upgrade.

Michigan definitely has a chance to address all those issues. It's not a stretch to assume four-star recruit Tate Forcier could work his way into the starting lineup at quarterback, and Michigan's class includes six prospects said to run the 40 in 4.5 seconds or faster. Also, five-star defensive tackle William Campbell, a 6-foot-5, 317-pound mountain of nastiness, should be an immediate starter.

Sure, there will be numerous players elsewhere who will make quick impacts. But Michigan needs its freshmen to play right away.

All conferences not created equal

From Will in Northridge, Calif.: I am amazed that you used bowl teams to say the SEC is the best conference in college football. The SEC can have a team make a bowl game with a 2-6 conference record. Can you name one time a team from the Pac-10 with two conference wins made a bowl game?

Actually, what I wrote in a recent mailbag was the SEC's 6-2 bowl record this year is a final piece of evidence that the SEC is the dominant conference in college football. I also pointed out how many SEC teams were ranked in the final poll, how many league teams were in bowl games and how in those bowls several SEC teams beat higher-ranked opponents.

That has sparked heated debate from fans out west, who have pointed out that the Pac-10 went 5-0 in bowls and that, in theory, makes the Pac-10 the premier football conference.

Sorry, I'm not buying it. A conference with half its teams not attaining bowl eligibility doesn't seem superior to me.

But you do have a point. It is absolutely true that no team in the Pac-10 reached a bowl game with just two conference wins.

Of course, it's mathematically impossible for that to happen. The Pac-10 plays nine conference games; therefore, league schools only have three non-conference games. Thus, if a Pac-10 team only wins two conference games, the most it could win overall would be five, which isn't enough for bowl eligibility.

But as recently as 2007, California reached a bowl game despite going 3-6 in league play.

Happy is a Hawg

From Zach in St. Louis: With Ryan Mallett probably starting at quarterback and recruits such as Ronnie Wingo Jr. and Darius Winston coming in, do you think Arkansas will be able to get at least seven wins next season in an improving SEC?

There should be optimism in the Ozarks. The Razorbacks were inept in the first half of this past season but played much better in the second half, with wins over Tulsa and LSU, a one-point loss to Kentucky and a two-point loss to Ole Miss.

Obviously, the Hogs improved as they got more comfortable with coach Bobby Petrino.

Small but electrifying tailback Michael Smith heads a list of eight returning offensive starters and Mallett is at least potentially an upgrade over Casey Dick at quarterback. If nothing else, he appears a better fit in Petrino's offense. Ten defensive starters return. All that combined with a non-conference schedule that has Missouri State, Texas A&M, Eastern Michigan and Troy makes seven victories a realistic goal in '09.

Losses are created equal

From Jaquan in Atlanta: Do you think Ohio State should fire its two coordinators?

Simply put, no. Why should offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock be fired when the Buckeyes have 33 victories in the past three seasons?

Ohio State doesn't run the kind of wide-open, spread that is so prevalent in college football, but the Buckeyes have averaged at least 342.7 yards and 27.6 points in each of the past three seasons. Those stats the low marks in the past three years were accumulated this season with a freshman quarterback and star tailback Chris Wells missing time with injury.

The defense has been even more impressive. Over the past three years, the Buckeyes' defense has ranked no worse than 14th nationally in total defense and no worse than sixth in scoring defense.

I wish the Wall Street guys had been that successful in their jobs.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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